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CEO DATELINE – Romance writers’ association debuts new award after racism controversy

May 26, 2020
By Walt Williams

Romance Writers of America has unveiled a new award named after a prominent African American romance novelist after it axed a previous award following a controversy of its handling of racism allegations against one of its members.

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The new award—called the Vivian—is named after novelist and RWA co-founder Vivian Stephens and will recognize “excellence in romance writing,” the Associated Press reported. It will replace the annual RITA awards, which were canceled last year after several judges and applicants dropped out because they believed the group unfairly punished a writer of Asian descent for publicly speaking out against alleged ethnic stereotypes in a work written by a white novelist and RWA member.

"Our goal is to celebrate the very best of our diverse genre," RWA President Alyssa Day said in a statement. "To do that, it's imperative we develop rules and resources that ensure The Vivian is inclusive, equitable, and accessible. We have a task force hard at work making that happen."

At issue was a complaint filed last year by novelist Kathryn Lynn Davis against author Courtney Milan after Milan publicly accused Davis of perpetuating racist stereotypes about Chinese women in one of her novels. RWA received the complaint and decided to discipline Milan, a move that quickly prompted a backlash from many of the association’s members.

RWA eventually reversed its decision, but not before Milan and several board members resigned from the group in protest. The backlash also forced the association to cancel its annual conference after several large publishers pulled out and led to the resignation of its executive director, Carol Ritter.

The association said it hopes to launch the new award this fall and is seeking input from members on what criteria should be used to judge nominees.